Shacknews Top 20 Best Games of the Mid-Year 2021

The year is halfway over and the Shacknews staff is here to weigh in with our 20 best games of 2021 so far.

1

The year is halfway over and while it's exciting to look at what's ahead, it's also a good time to look back at the year up to this point. There have been a lot of high quality games that have released in the past six months, many of which will undoubtedly be revisited in December for the annual Game of the Year roundup. For now, we're going to look at the best games from the first half of this year.

The Shacknews staff is here to regale readers with the 20 Best Games of the Mid-Year. These games are listed in no particular order and are being recognized for their excellence in a variety of areas. They're games that we're happy to pick up and play again and again. And, of course, they're games that we encourage our readers to pick up and try for themselves. Let's dive in.

Hitman 3

The moment that Hitman 3 included an expansive English mansion in which a full murder mystery whodunnit played out alongside whatever poor schmuck we were supposed to take out as Agent 47, the writing was clear as day on the wall that we were in for an absolute treat. True to form, IO Interactive not only delivered, but keeps delivering with Hitman 3.

At its core, each of the new locations provides a breathtaking environment in which to chase down targets and the game is aided by new Dark Souls-like short cuts that can be permanently opened to make missions easier on later passes. Their monthly free and premium content updates are an ongoing level of support we've rarely seen for an already impeccable single-player game. The DLC has us currently taking on specialized challenges and earning gear and cosmetic unlocks with a Seven Deadly Sin motif and Elusive Targets continue to be an exciting way to chase after unique contracts. Hitman 3 is the horn of plenty, if the plenty was supposed to be meticulously calculated murder.

-TJ Denzer, News Editor

Monster Hunter Rise

After Capcom put out the impeccable Monster Hunter World in 2018 and supported it so well in the following years, it was easy to be nervous about a new game coming solely to Nintendo Switch that was trying to capture some of that same visual style. Monster Hunter Rise blew our expectations away though. Not only does it play smooth as Iron Silk on the Nintendo Switch and handle online connectivity and matchmaking like a dream over even incredibly long distance, but the game also brought some fantastic new mechanics to the table that we're not sure we want to ever go without in a new MH game.

Wyvern riding on its own is an absolute treat - grabbing the reins of dragons and other monsters and forcing them to do battle against once another as you get your hunt on. Then there's the fact that the game also plays just as crisp in handheld as it does in docked mode. Put this all together and you have one of the versatile and fun handheld titles this year.

-TJ Denzer, News Editor

PAC-MAN 99

It amazes me that after all these years folks are still finding ways to keep a game with as long a life-span as PAC-MAN. And yet, here we are with a brand-spanking-new way to experience our circular yellow friend that’s somehow both familiar and completely new at the same time.

PAC-MAN 99 takes the game’s core concept of chomping down pellets in a maze and miraculously turns it into a battle royale that makes for a shockingly remarkable, and possibly snack-sized, gaming experience. Even if you’ve been playing PAC-MAN since it first made the scene in the arcade-laden era that was the 80s, you’re still going to have rethink how you approach the game from a new perspective. Throwing jammer pac-people at your opponents and out-maneuvering the one they throw at you, adapting how and who you’re attacking all while dodging ghosts and munching down power pellets and various fruits. This game may very well be the greatest battle royale of all time. 

-Blake Morse, Co-EIC

Returnal

Housemarque offered an incredibly challenging roguelike with Returnal earlier this year. Enemies are really unforgiving, but there’s nothing like the satisfaction of learning, adjusting, and taking down foes. Returnal is one of the handful of games that truly feels “next-gen.” From the stunning visuals to the way that the mechanics and in-game environments are integrated into the DualSense controller, Returnal is a showcase for just how impressive the PS5 is.

-Donovan Erskine, Contributing Editor

It Takes Two

It Takes Two was one of the pleasant surprises of the early 2021 release window. This co-op adventure takes us on a journey full of unique locations with interesting characters and environments. The puzzles and challenges force players to strategize and cooperate with one another, and is easily the best "couch co-op" game we've seen in years. There’s also a lot to glean from the story itself, as we follow a couple on the brink of divorce, and their daughter’s desperate attempts to get them to stay together. It Takes Two is one of those games you play and then say, "It had no right being as good as it was." The team at Hazelight gets better and better with each new release.

-Donovan Erskine, Contributing Editor

Resident Evil Village

With plenty of gunplay, customization, and some pretty memorable characters including a certain Tall Vampire Lady, Resident Evil: Village focused on improving elements of the gameplay established in RE7 while providing more interesting ways to face the horrors lurking in dark castle corridors and vacuous caverns.

While Ethan has been criticized for not being the best protagonist, there’s plenty of awesome set pieces and spectacle with connected story beats to the previous game that make it hard not to root for him by the end. As a shift was made from traditional zombies to vicious lycan beasts, witches, and other enemy types, the Capcom team showed some serious confidence with how they wanted to present a threat to the player. This game has some of the most exciting boss fights in recent years with style and gameplay elements made popular in several other horror games sprinkled throughout the encounters.

With DLC recently announced as being currently in development during E3, there’s a chance we may get more answers to pressing questions and new things to be afraid of in the 2nd half of the year.

-Dennis White, Community Manager

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury

Super Mario 3D World was one of my most anticipated games of this year. I mean, it was the Shacknews 2013 Game of the Year, a game that few people played because it was on the Wii U. Now that it was coming to the Switch, many other people would get to see what a masterpiece it was.

The unknown quantity here was Bowser's Fury, but did it ever take me by surprise. I was suddenly playing a huge open world Mario game, where there were still standard Mario platforming ideas in place, but all surrounded by an evolving world. Bowser's appearances would totally change how levels needed to be approached and the game would only grow more challenging, as his arrivals became more frequent as the game's final minutes inched closer. It's a concept I would love to see explored on a grander scale in the future, but for what it is, Bowser's Fury is incredible and a great supplement to Super Mario 3D World, which still holds up beautifully.

-Ozzie Mejia, Senior Editor

Loop Hero

It is usually a safe bet that if you see a new game under the Devolver Digital banner, it will be interesting at the bare minimum. In the case of Loop Hero, interesting would be an appropriate tag, as well as innovative and addictive. This tactical deck-building roguelike hybrid musters many feelings of nostalgia thanks to its VGA-era graphical presentation. Some of its esoteric design will also be appreciated by gamers who were alive and playing in the VGA era. While some may call it an idler, you will be anything but idle while plunking down cards in the play area and swapping out gear like crazy.

-Chris Jarrard, Contributing Tech Editor

Knockout City

Sometimes, simple fun is the best kind of fun. Knockout City pits teams against each other in dodgeball-Esque battles across skyscrapers, city streets, and more. You and the members of your crew have loads of character customization options to look your best out in the streets. The game also offers a variety of special ball types that work to spice up play. One of the finer gaming moments of 2021 has been when a teammate rolls themselves into a ball that you use to clobber an opponent. Knockout City excels at being easy to pick up and play while retaining a skill ceiling that should ensure packed lobbies throughout the year.

-Chris Jarrard, Contributing Tech Editor

Guilty Gear Strive

Guilty Gear Strive isn't just a great game for the midyear. It has a real chance of being in multiple conversations about awards at the end of the year for more than just being a fighting game. First off, it's gorgeous from top to bottom. Every match looks ridiculously beautiful and clean between the incredibly well-designed characters, backgrounds, and the lighting effects throughout. It plays incredibly well too. There's an ease of access to this one in simplified inputs, but Guilty Gear Strive also has an enormous amount of tools for those who want to really explore its depths and become a master.

And finally, the netcode. This is a genre changer. Guilty Gear Strive's matches are crisp on an incredible level for a fighting game and even if that were the only good thing about the game, it would be something that every other game should be trying feverishly to copy in their online play. Fortunately, sans some ugly lobbies and slow connection to the game, Guilty Gear Strive is an absolutely amazing package on most fronts from form to functionality.

-TJ Denzer, News Editor

Chivalry 2

Sometimes after a long, hard day you just wanna sit back and unwind with a relaxing game and mutilate some folks in a blood orgy of medieval combat. Chivalry 2 is the perfect option for such an occasion. While on the surface it might just seem like a lot of flailing and lucky hits, it’s more like a very intense and quick of rock, paper, scissors where choosing the right one can mean the difference between losing your head or cutting off someone else's.

And while Chiv 2 may be a total gore-fest it also has a very delightful sense of humor about its dismemberment, like when the Monty Python quotes start rolling out. And you can beat down people with just about anything you can pick up. I've even tried charging into battle wielding nothing but a fierce battlecry and a fish in my hand. I didn’t last long, but it's the effort that counts, right?

-Blake Morse, Co-EIC

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

Insomniac Games has been on an incredible winning streak with its Spider-Man games that it's easy to forget what an amazing achievement the Ratchet & Clank series has been. With Rift Apart, it now holds the distinction of being the best game the PlayStation 5 has to offer. Insomniac aims high with dimension-hopping mechanics, massive worlds, and dozens upon dozens of enemies on screen at one time. The latter is especially true near the end of the game and what blows my mind is, the PS5 moves right along with no problem. There are no loading times, no performance lag, and the game just stays looking strikingly gorgeous.

This is before even diving into the story itself, which follows both Ratchet and Rivet, a new parallel world Lombax, across a dystopian dimension where Emperor Nefarious has taken over all. It's an animated movie come to life with high stakes, lovable characters, impeccable humor, and a lot of exciting moments. Plus, weapons, there's lot of cool weapons.

There are a few hints at the end of Rift Apart of where the series might go from here and I'm personally looking forward to it. There's no more feel-good story this year than Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.

-Ozzie Mejia, Senior Editor

Game Builder Garage

Game Builder Garage can be seen as an ideal answer to one of Nintendo's problems. After years of ignoring pleas for new entries in franchises that have languished in the past (Here's looking at you, F-ZERO), Nintendo has provided us with a tool to make our own version of any video game we like. The charming and cutesy game design application might lack the limitless potential of competing products like Sony's Dreams, but Game Builder Garage has the polish and appeal that Nintendo has perfected over time. It's a fantastic jumping off point for would-be game designers or programmers.

Playing through the interactive lessons not only walks players through the basics of building increasingly complex games, it also teaches the basics of visual programming in a novel and fun way. The thrill of overcoming a tough obstacle in a game is great but the satisfaction in solving a problem for something that you are creating is sublime. Game Builder Garage is a wonderful starting point for anyone interested in learning about how to make video games. Projects like Nintendo Labo, Ring Fit Adventure, and now Game Builder Garage show Nintendo's commitment to providing unique experiences that can educate and enrich the lives of players rather than just distracting them.

-Bryan Lefler, Contributing Editor

Scarlet Nexus

When an anime action RPG is done well, there's nothing quite like it. I wasn't sure what to expect out of Scarlet Nexus, but it exceeded every expectation. It didn't exactly have me from the first moment I saw those oddball horrors known as Others, but the more I familiarzied myself with the game's formula, the more I bought in. What made Scarlet Nexus such a great game for me was that my character was fully capable of being a supremely powerful fighter, able to tear Others apart like tissue paper. However, I also had to be careful not to go overboard, because tapping into too much power would ultimately result in self-destruction. It was such a cool touch to a game filled with strong combat.

What makes Scarlet Nexus even better is its implementation of dual narratives, where both characters' stories feel wildly different despite both going through the same events concurrently. There are enough twists in each main character's storyline and enough side characters worth learning about that it gave me every incentive to enjoy the full Scarlet Nexus experience. It's a brilliant piece of a work and one that Bandai Namco should be proud of making.

-Ozzie Mejia, Senior Editor

Bravely Default 2

The original Bravely Default was an outstanding piece of work from Square Enix, taking the turn-based RPG formula from old-school Final Fantasy games and tweaking it in new and exciting ways. The Job system, in particular, was a lot of fun, allowing for a mixture of conventional RPG roles and some unique new classes.

Bravely Default 2 took the ideas from the previous two games (Yes, Bravely Second was a thing, too) and turned them up a notch. The new Jobs made BD2 a complete joy adding cool new mechanics, like the Beastmaster's ability to capture enemies, the Dragoon's ability to integrate jumping attacks, and the Salve-Maker's ability to mix dangerous (or live-saving) conconctions.

On top of that, Bravely Default 2's story made this game worth seeing through to the end.... no matter how aggravating that end might have been, but that's another story. The characters are all endearing, they're flowing with personality, they all have great chemistry with each other, and it's easy to become invested in their personal journeys. Adelle, in particular, is going to be on my short list for Best Character of 2021 for a variety of reasons, including a few of which will jump into spoiler territory, so let's not get into those specifics until we circle back to this topic in December.

-Ozzie Mejia, Senior Editor

New Pokemon Snap

New Pokemon Snap was an unexpected sequel to the early-era Pokemon spinoff from the 90s. Released on the Nintendo Switch, New Pokemon Snap fit right in with the hybrid console's motion and gyro controls. Coming out 20 years after the original game also meant that New Pokemon Snap had much more to play with in terms of its roster. There’s Pokemon from all eight generations, all together in harmony. It may not be the deepest game of the year, but it’s enough to put a smile on the face of any longtime fan of the franchise.

-Donovan Erskine, Contributing Editor

Cyber Shadow

For the past seven years, Shovel Knight has helped me rediscover my love for old-school games like Mega Man and DuckTales. As a follow-up Yacht Club Games went the publisher route and got behind Aarne "MekaSkull" Hunziker's Cyber Shadow. If Shovel Knight is a mix of Mega Man and DuckTales, Cyber Shadow is a mix of Ninja Gaiden and Castlevania. The result is incredibly tasty retro-style gameplay.

There are some times where Cyber Shadow can be a little too retro. (It's difficulty is brutal.) However, there's no faulting the 8-bit art style, the level design, the power-ups, and the boss battles. The boss battles, especially, require some quick thinking and fast reflexes, enough to provide an intense challenge, one that can be crushing, but not unfair.

I don't know if Cyber Shadow will have the same staying power that Shovel Knight has had, but even if it's a one-and-done, I'm happy for having experienced it.

-Ozzie Mejia, Senior Editor

Ghosts 'n Goblins Resurrection

A lot of people like to say that something is the "Dark Souls" of a certain genre when it happens to be a really tough and challenging game. But in fact Dark Souls is really just the Ghosts 'n Goblins of its modern genre. Capcom's G'nG series has been frustrating and pushing gamers to polish their skills long before there was even a From Software.

Fortunately for those of us with little to no patience or no time to get good, Ghosts 'n Goblins Resurrection offered up the classic challenge with a few new twists and turns as well as a few modes that would make things a little more approachable for the average modern gamer. And while there might be an easy mode, the series has not lost sight of its pure flavor. If you haven't taken the brave knight Arthur and his heart-laden boxers for a spin yet, there’s no better time than now.

-Blake Morse, Co-EIC

Mighty Goose

It's a known fact that they just don't make games like Metal Slug the way they used to. Several studios have tried to keep the action run-and-gunner alive, but the releases are few and far between. Mighty Goose is... a whole other beast above the kind we've seen.

In this game, you play as a bounty hunter known as the titular Mighty Goose, traveling the galaxy and delivering rapid-fire justice and honks to the worst galactic baddies around. This game is absolutely ridiculous in its premise, but the core is beyond solid. Goose has your typical armaments, starting with a single shooter and getting things like machine guns, rocket launchers, shot guns, lightning guns, and more. What's more fun is activating Mighty Goose mode once your bar is full and absolutely ripping through foes and huge bosses with explosively powered-up versions of all your weapons. Add a dedicated honk button this game alongside a pretty great soundtrack and lush art style and Mighty Goose is maybe our favorite running and gunning platformer we've seen for long time.

-TJ Denzer, News Editor

Cozy Grove

Cozy Grove is maybe one of the most chill and charming experiences out there. There isn't too much challenge to it. You are a Spirit Scout who arrives on an island and seek to aid the inhabitants: a collection of bear ghosts each holding onto a particular problem keeping them from moving on. To do this, you'll improve your campsite, raise pets, forage the island for items, fish, plant trees, and flowers, harvest their fruits, and more to power your campsite's spirit flame, better aid the ghosts, and discover even more characters along the way.

Maybe the most interesting part of Cozy Grove is that it strives to only keep your time for a little bit a day. The game's quests and resource spawns run on a timer, so once you've cleared a day's work, you'll have to come back to the game the next day to discover more. Not only does it keep Cozy Grove from eating up too much of your day, but it kept us coming back over and over to help the friendly bear ghosts we were getting to know little by little.

It can get weighty at times - you are helping ghosts with regrets - but Cozy Grove lives up to its name well. It's a warm stop and a welcome distraction from a hectic world.

-TJ Denzer, News Editor


Those are our 20 best games of the mid-year for 2021. How many of these games have you played? Also, are there any games that you feel we did not recognize? Join the conversation in the comments and let's have a nice chat about it. Keep it on Shacknews, as we keep bringing you more on the latest games of 2021.

From The Chatty
Hello, Meet Lola